Written by MaryAnn F. Kohl, Author of 25 Children’s Art Activity Books
Do you go on high alert when someone says, “I’ve been thinking!”?
Do you wonder what they will say next?
Well, now it’s my turn to say, “I’ve been thinking….”
…and I really have! I’ve been thinking about what key factors form the most effective educators of young children. And I think I’ve discovered a major one. I’d love to share it with you.
I call this factor, “Remember Your Child Self”.
It’s quite simple really. When I am with a child, and most often involved with process art activities, I remember how I felt as a child when an adult interacted with me. I think of the things an adult could say to me that made me sparkle with enthusiasm and confidence, or made me pull away and hide inside.
I want to be the adult who encourages sparkle! I’m therefore very, very careful about what I say or how I react, what expression crosses my face, and what tone I use, whenever I interact with a child.
I take it very seriously.
For example, recently I was working with a small group of preschoolers using a basic dough recipe to make and bake all kinds of shapes. Everyone was making up his or her own small dough sculptures.
One little guy said, “I want to bake a rocket ship!”
I said, “Oh, yummy! That sounds like a great idea.”
He said, “No, I mean I want to make a real rocket ship and bake it. Then I’m going to fly to Neptune.” So here I was, with an impossible request, and how should I respond? It wasn’t easy!
“A rocket to Neptune! Wow, that would take a lot of dough. I like your idea but I don’t have enough ingredients today. Will you talk with me a little later about how we can take your idea and see what comes of it?” He agreed.
I suppose I could have been more scientific and said, “Sorry, a dough rocket will never make it out of the atmosphere.” Or more financially truthful saying, “I don’t have enough money to make a rocket out of dough.” Or perhaps more fantasy founded saying, “I would love to fly to Neptune with you. Let me know when your rocket is ready. Blast off! Woo hoo!” I don’t know!! Something! Anything!
What I said at the very least gave the child respect for his thoughts and the possibility of looking at it later. I respected his thinking and I didn’t dash his creativity.
And, yes, we did talk about it later. We talked about real rockets that NASA has sent into space, how they use fuel to boost themselves beyond the atmosphere, what happens when they return, and how far most rockets have gotten in space thus far in history. As a result of our conversation, he decided to build a rocket with wood scraps and add it to the play area. Now he flies to Neptune with his friends every day. And he’s perfectly content, as well as having new knowledge about rockets.
I know we can’t always accommodate every request and every idea. But we can try to respond with respect for the child’s thinking. When we encourage a child to share his or her ideas, we honor that child’s thought process, ideas, and personal expression. We bolster the child’s intellect and creativity.
I could tell you stories of things an adult said to me that make me reach for the stars, and things made me pull inside myself and hide.
There’s the teacher who told me I was a leader and that she would count on me during the year to be a support to her. There was my first grade teacher who said there was no time to draw angels at school because we were coloring leaves today and Christmas was a long way off. I remember raising my hand over and over and never being called on because I knew the answers, which just never made me feel very good at all. My PE teacher said I couldn’t be on the high jump team because I was a girl. My second grade teacher said she loved the way I shaded my pumpkin drawing.
I’m sure you all have stories of your own.
I want to be the teacher or adult who lifts a child with honest attention. Don’t you?
Here are some quick responses that honor a child’s ideas ::
- What a great idea!
- Let me know how that goes when you’ve got it worked out.
- Really amazing thinking!
- Thanks for sharing that with me.
- I love the way you think!
- Really? You thought of that? Cool!
- I never thought of that before!
I want the child with whom I’m interacting to feel empowered and respected. I want that child to feel the way I wanted to feel when I was little. Respected and appreciated. It’s very simple, really.
Remember your child self when talking to children, and the results will have value that cannot be measured, but will leave a lasting mark in the best way imaginable.
About the Author
MaryAnn F. Kohl is a former elementary school teacher and the author of 25 art activity books for kids, including Scribble Art, Preschool Art, Action Art, and more. You can find more about her and her books at Bright Ring Publishing, Inc.
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